CINCINNATI – A woman said she was just seconds too late when she saw a boy crawl through the barriers and fall into the gorilla enclosure at the zoo Saturday.
Brittany Nicely was watching the gorillas with her children when she spotted the 4-year-old boy crawling in the bushes. She tried to grab him.
“I was just trying to stop him from jumping,” Nicely said. “It was very clear that he wanted to get into the water.”
The boy then fell into the shallow water in the moat between the gorilla habitat and the visitors’ area. Zoo staffers were able to call two other gorillas back inside, but Harambe went down to the moat with the boy.
The boy’s mother didn’t seem to realize it was her child who fell at first, according to Nicely.
“In a situation like that, you have wild animals, you think they are going to attack,” she said.
Another witness, Tangie Hollifield, said it didn't seem like Harambe was trying to hurt the boy. But the 400-plus-pound gorilla was “extremely strong,” according to Zoo Director Thane Maynard. Witnesses described seeing Harambe drag the boy around.
Harambe “just held onto him, and went up the ladder and just threw him,” Hollifield said. “But I don’t think he was hurting him. He was just trying to protect him.”
Zoo officials rushed to respond. They made the decision to shoot the gorilla dead because a tranquilizer could have taken too long, according to Maynard.
The family released the following statement Sunday:
"We are so thankful to the Lord that our child is safe. He is home and doing just fine. We extend our heartfelt thanks for the quick action by the Cincinnati Zoo staff. We know that this was a very difficult decision for them, and that they are grieving the loss of their gorilla. We hope that you will respect our privacy at this time."
Nicely said she regretted that she wasn’t fast enough to stop the boy.
“I’m not the parent, but I did see it, and I tried,” she said. “And he was on a mission.”